First principles-based atomistic modeling of the interfacial microstructure and capacitance of graphene
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Graphene has been extensively studied for possible future technical applications due to its unique electronic, transport, and mechanical properties. For practical applications, graphene often needs to be placed in a medium or on a substrate. The interfacial interaction between graphene and other materials can greatly affect the performance of graphene-based devices, but has not been well explored. My thesis research focused on developing a better understanding of the interface of pristine and chemically/mechanically modified graphene sheets with ionic liquids (ILs) as well as amorphous silica (a-SiO₂) surfaces using first principles-based atomistic modeling which combines density functional theory, classical molecular dynamics, and Metropolis Monte Carlo. The major focus of my thesis research was on investigating the interfacial structure and capacitance between graphene and ILs; graphene-based materials and ILs have been regarded as viable candidates for supercapacitor electrodes and electrolytes, respectively. Particular emphasis was placed on elucidating the relative contributions of the electric double layer (EDL) capacitance at the graphene/IL interface and the quantum capacitance of graphene-like electrodes. More specifically, we first determined the microstructure (such as orientation, packing density, cation-anion segregation) of chosen ILs near planar graphene electrodes with various surface charge densities. Based on the calculated IL microstructure for each system, the EDL capacitance was then evaluated with particular attention to the effect of cation-anion size difference. We also examined the influence of the chemical and mechanical modifications of graphene-like electrodes on the supercapacitor performance. Especially, mechanisms underlying chemical doping-induced enhancement of the total interfacial capacitance were addressed through analysis of electrode quantum capacitance changes resulting from electronic structure modifications. A part of my effort was also devoted to examining the binding interaction of graphene with a-SiO₂ (which is not yet clearly understood despite its scientific and technological importance). In particular, we attempted to evaluate quantitatively the adsorption strength of graphene on the a-SiO₂ surface, which has been under debate mainly due to the difficulty of direct measurement.